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How movie star Sylvester Stallone saved F1 and its fans a lot of embarrassment

The idea sounded so good, but in the end it simply wasn't possible: a movie based on Formula 1 for Sylvester Stallone. Exactly 24 years ago, he announced that his film Driven would not be based on Formula 1, but on the American CART Champ Car Series. In the end, that turned out to be a good thing for F1.

Stallone & Schumacher
Throwback
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American actor and filmmaker Sylvester Stallone had gotten the idea in the 1990s to make an action and sports film based on Formula 1.

He had been watching the sport for several years, but Stallone became a curious observer when he visited a few F1 races in Europe while shooting the film Judge Dredd. The filmmaker wanted to understand who lived inside the helmet, because he never knew who they were. What does the life of an F1 driver look like? That was the question for Stallone.

Although people kept telling him how expensive racing was or that there is more computer technology in F1 cars than it took to go to the moon, the human aspect interested the American. He wanted to know how the driver could deal with the pressure and how to control the machine.

And so at some point he went into the pits and talked to drivers and crew. He worked out the screenplay for his film Driven and adapted it as he attended more races. These included his attendance at the 1997 Italian Grand Prix. But making the Formula One film eventually proved to be a struggle, and people kept telling him it wasn't possible. And then it was Feb. 9, 2000, the day Stallone announced that a movie based on F1 was no longer in the cards.

'Formula One is very formal'

"I apologise to fans of F1, but there is a certain individual there who runs the sport and has his own agenda. F1 is very formal and it's very difficult to get to know people," Stallone said at the time. He visited Grand Prix for research for more than two years, but he said Formula 1 was too closed and Bernie Ecclestone too powerful for such a project to succeed.

The film did go ahead, because he wanted to continue making a reality-based action film. And so he sought refuge with the CART Champ Car Series. Stallone shot footage during nine races in five countries, working with real owners and drivers to simulate their own races.

"Here in CART it's much more open and you can see that in the film. It's very important to me that we make a movie that really captures the true meaning of CART - the emotion, excitement, speed, technology and glamour that is Champ Car Racing," said Stallone.

Finally released in 2001, Driven proved to be a major flop, even commercially. The film was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards, given to the worst films of the year, with one of the nominations being "cashed in." So in the end, F1 was spared a gigantic disaster. Because if this film had been based on F1, it would have irrevocably done great damage to the king class of motorsports.

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